Towards the end of 2012 I had two conversations with teachers in two different schools that made me stop and think.
The first was with a principal who in response to my assertion that we overuse grades in school replied:
I’ve heard all this before. But if we stop grading, we end up with kids who are shit but who don’t know they’re shit.
A few days later during a Q&A with a teaching faculty, a number of teachers started referring to “the Dross”, and once they’d “gotten rid of the dross,”they could really start teaching.
Now I’m not in the business of over-generalising or stereotyping, and I’m well aware of the challenges presented by some kids, but these two instances encouraged me to write the following for a Generation Next Newsletter. It’s not intended to be a detailed, in-depth look at teacher – student relationships. Rather it’s intended to serve as a conversation starter… what do you think?
Of course we all know that relationships are central to teaching, and of course we all know that good relationships are pre-cursor to good teaching.
But I wonder if we can clarify what a good Teacher/Student relationship looks like?
In my experience good relationships in the classroom don’t depend on likeability as such. By that I mean we shouldn’t be aiming to be friends with students.
Rather a good relationship is built on 3 key things.
Respect must be a two-way street. No you shouldn’t expect students to respect you just because you’re a teacher. No-one has EVER been able to convince as to why this should be the case. Respect is something that takes time to be built and nurtured. Calling kids by their first name (not a nickname or surname) is a good starting point.
Let’s be honest, schools don’t trust kids. That’s why schools ban Facebook. That’s why unions panic if student feedback is suggested as a good way of measuring teacher performance. But if we don’t trust the kids – and they know this – why would they trust us? How many kids think that a teacher’s “out to get them?”
3. Show that you care.
Studies have shown time and again, the number one thing kids need from a teacher is the sense that they care about how they’re doing; both socially and academically. They feel that the teacher wants what’s best for them, and the way this is conveyed with respect and trust.
I wonder what would happen if every schools’ motto was: “We respect, trust and care about our students.”
Of course. I don’t know anyone that would disagree with the model above. Even the terrible teachers would agree with it and most would think that’s what they do. Unfortunately perception has always been an issue.
However, ‘the dross’ is an issue. I’ve got a good relationship with the kids who are considered dross. There is little or no academic progress made with them. What are we wanting to achieve then?
With the kids I teach I figure its about keeping them out of gaol/teenage pregnancy/risk taking behaviours and educating/persuading them about responsible citizenship. Is it about essays? Literature analysis? No.
And though there is reward in that it does get tiring. It would be nice to have the opportunity to teach more academically interesting ideas.
Essentially it depends on what society wants me to do. But the ‘dross’ idea is real however much you think ‘wow’.